Parents, you can thank me. I have taken my baby on a cruise so you don’t have to. I have always said that family cruising is best when the kids are elementary school age and older, but I never had a chance to put that theory to the test. I recently found myself sitting in a darkened cabin on Rhapsody of the Seas, listening to my 1-year-old son breathe as he napped. While waiting for my mom to return (the two of us took Isaac on his first at-sea sojourn), I started thinking about reasons why you may not want to take your baby on a cruise.
Don’t get me wrong — cruising with a baby is definitely doable, especially on the right ship with an accommodating kid. The staff on Rhapsody was extraordinarily friendly, making a point to say hi to my son and not getting upset about the messes he made. I have great photos of him in his tuxedo onesie on formal night, and I’ll always have the memories of celebrating his first birthday on his first Alaska cruise (complete with a cake smash in the main dining room). He enjoyed pushing our umbrella stroller around the pool deck and down the cabin hallways. But between you and me, I needed a serious vacation after this cruise.
Here, then, are nine reasons to think twice before taking the little one on a cruise. (Caveat: Your baby may be better suited to cruising than mine, but still consider my advice.)
1. Babies don’t sail free. With the exception of a few lines that have standard kids-sail-free deals and occasional promotions, you have to pay the going third-person rate for a baby sharing a cabin with Mom and Dad. That can be a hefty sum for a trip baby is not going to remember.
2. You can’t pack light. What with the stroller, the bag of baby food and snacks, the bottles, sippy cups, multiple outfits per day and toys, I could have used a Sherpa to get through the airport with all our gear. Had I brought the car seat, I don’t think I would have been physically able to carry all the bags I needed to bring. For little people, babies don’t travel light.
3. It’s not a vacation for mom and dad. Some of the best parts of cruising are not cooking, cleaning or doing laundry for a week. On this cruise, I washed bottles and sippy cups at least once a day, spent a morning in port washing clothes, and brought my own food to the lido buffet for breakfast and lunch. Thank goodness, I didn’t have to wash all the linens we soiled or hose down the high chair after every meal.
4. Cruise ships aren’t baby-proof. My active kid wanted to explore everything. Unfortunately, open railings on the pool deck, decorative pebbles in the planters and high-traffic stairways don’t make for the safest play places for babies lacking self-preservation instincts. Unless your ship has a play area baby can access, there is really nowhere on a ship that’s a good place for baby to play. The cabin is your best bet.
5. Cribs make cabins even smaller. Thought your cabin was snug? Try sticking a full-size pack-and-play in the middle of it. Oh, and you have to squeeze the stroller in whatever free corner is left. (Tip: Leave the full-size jogging stroller at home.) It makes co-sleeping look really appealing.
6. No nightlife for you. My kid goes to sleep at 7 p.m., which meant from that point on, someone had to be in the cabin with him. With only Grandma and me cruising with baby, one of us got to go out at night and the other person ended up asleep by 9 after sitting in a darkened room for hours. That’s right — with no dividing curtain on Rhapsody, we couldn’t risk turning on lights. Some ships have in-cabin baby-sitting (if you’re willing to pay 20 bucks an hour) or a nursery where you can put baby down — if he or she will go to sleep in a communal space and transfer easily back to the crib at midnight.
7. The cruise schedule doesn’t always match baby’s schedule. Embarkation day was a nightmare because my kid needs to nap, in a crib, at 10:45 a.m. sharp. When I showed up, screaming child in hand, on our deck to beg entry into our cabin at 12:30 p.m. (they weren’t officially open until 1), I discovered that our pack-and-play wouldn’t arrive until 4 p.m. There was no napping that day. If your baby isn’t a stroller napper (mine isn’t), embark/debark days and shore excursions may be difficult to manage. And, oh yeah, expect baby’s sleeping and eating patterns and schedules to get messed up during the trip.
8. Babies can’t use the pool. With the exception of certain ships with splash zones for the diaper set (like some Royal Caribbean and Disney ships), kids can’t use the pool unless they’re toilet trained. That makes sea days in the Caribbean or Mexico less fun — unless you plan on schlepping and filling an inflatable tub/pool.
9. Most cruise cabins don’t have bathtubs. Book Disney or a suite for bathtub access — otherwise baby better like sponge baths or showers. Mine discovered during his first sponge bath in the shower that he could remove the drain cover and reach inside the dark recesses of the drain. That was the end of the sponge bath, and I’m not sure he ever got entirely clean while we were on Rhapsody. Again, consider the inflatable tub/pool. I regretted not bringing one.
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